During the production of 3rd Edition Tactical Rules, Revised, attempts to balance the game came to the realization that certain design decisions automatically led to gameplay imbalances. Technology advancements (in particular, weapons) tended to be massive increases in power. Certain technologies were also "better" than other competing technology (for example, Missiles), making them the sole choice if the player wanted an even chance to win. And the way research was handled incentivized picking only the best technologies. On top of the balanced issues, while Sky Marshal #2 vastly improved and simplified the strategic rules, there was massive room for improvement.
Player demographics were also changing. More players were interested in the campaign system and the strategic rules. So the Starfire Design Studio committed to a long-term focus on the strategy game and the "4th Edition" project was started. Through the rest of 1998 and all of 1999 the SDS worked on a new version of STARFIRE. Countless emails between the seven original SDS members covered every rules section and every game concept was re-evaluated. By the late spring of 1999, two playtest campaigns were started. By the end of 1999 Marvin decided that he needed additional help to edit the prepare the rules documents, and Matthew Olson was hired in December 1999 to help coordinate the volunteers and work as a pre-publication editor. By April 2000 the edition had been named GALACTIC STARFIRE and was nearly ready for the printers. That summer, the Starfire Deisgn Studio allocated the funds needed for the final production. At both Origins and GenCon that year, the SDS was proud to have the boxed set of Galactic Starfire available for sale.
Elite Starfire
In 2002 the Starfire Design Studio released the Elite Starfire supplement to Galactic Starfire, which added optional rules and alternate rules that were not tested enough to be included with the original release. In addition, multiple rules sections were rewritten. In particular, the Small Craft and Automated Weapons rules were re-worked around new concepts. Squadrons are now treated as a single small unit instead of a group of small units, vastly simplifying gameplay and making it possible to balance them against other weapon systems.
Admiral's Challenge
While Marvin was focused on the final publication of Galactic Starfire, the SDS ran with a new idea... and the result was Admiral's Challenge. Released in May 2000. Admiral's Challenge replaced the traditional galaxy with a hex map where each hex represented a system at the strategic level. Ships moved on the hex map as if moving through open space, able to detect and react to enemy movements at interstellar distances. Enemy fleets that moved into the same hex would enter tactical combat. The resulting strategy game played quite a bit different than the original and in some ways was easier to play on a tabletop.